DECA, a student organization with programs in Buying & Merchandising, Fashion Merchandising, Retail Marketing, Retail Merchandising, and more, is a great partner of NRF Foundation — and retail. Last fall, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel about how the organization prepares students for the workforce. With over 185,000 high school members, DECA helps students develop skills for successful business careers, build self–esteem, experience leadership and practice community service.
When I heard that DECA was competing in the Pepsi Refresh Project, I reached out to Mike Marchetti for more details. Mike is the current chairman of DECA’s National Advisory Board, and also Executive Vice President of Store Operations for Finish Line. He has always been an enthusiastic supporter of DECA — not just because he personally believes in their mission, but also because of how the relationship impacts Finish Line’s bottom line.
You’ve worked in the retail industry for 30 years. Can you tell me about some of the previous positions you’ve held in retail? How did you get where you are today?
I started as a shoe salesman while working my way through college. After a few years in the Navy and completing my education, I decided to make retail a career. I was a natural salesman and so it was a good fit. I started my management career by managing stores for Kinney Shoes in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. From there I was promoted to District Manager in Houston, Texas, and then to Regional Vice President in Chicago.
Kinney acquired Champs Sports and Robby’s Sports. Both were based in Florida, with stores in the southeast. Having a passion for sports, I inquired about opportunities with the new company. When they started expanding to the Midwest, I joined as District Manager in Chicago, opening up stores across the Midwest. About a year later, I was promoted to Regional Vice President responsible for everything from Puerto Rico to Seattle, as well as all the Going to Game stores across the country.
In 1995, I met Larry Sablosky, one of the Finish Line founders. In talking to Larry, I found an opportunity of a lifetime. That’s when I joined Finish Line. And I have never looked back.
What are the two most important skills you’ve learned and used on your climb up the career ladder?
Being in management, I think the #1 skill you have to have is being able to coach a team. I have always compared it to being a good parent. As a parent, you want the best for your kids. It’s the same in being a good coach.
And I guess #2 would be hard work. Nothing replaces hard work. I think you can get anything you want in life if you are willing to work hard enough for it.
Finish Line has had a long partnership with DECA. Your company sponsors an Employment Partnership Program and the Sports & Entertainment Marketing Competitive Event. Finish Line also provides a number of scholarships, and you serve as Chairman of the National Advisory Board. Tell me more how the relationship started and the benefits of partnering with a student organization like DECA. Do you have a favorite DECA/Finish Line activity?
I was first introduced to DECA when I worked for Kinney Shoes. They’d had a long partnership with DECA and I knew that it was valuable to Kinney’s. I took that information with me when I went to Finish Line. When we were ready, I reached out to DECA to get our partnership started.
The Finish Line/DECA Partnership has many benefits – on both sides of the ball – but we are specifically focused on hiring DECA students in our stores. Their schools are a good overlay to our stores and the tie to the classroom provides a reliable source of semi-trained, career-focused employees.
As an Ops guy, my favorite part of the partnership, of course, is the bottom line. DECA students make up about 10% of our overall workforce and consistently outperform all other hiring sources for our company. We also gain valuable market information through our working relationship with DECA classes because the students are our core customer group.
That said, probably the most rewarding part of our partnership, for me is, our scholarship program and participating in DECA’s Executive Mentor Program. The thrill I get from encouraging and interacting with these young people is just incredible.
Your company holds an annual DECA Day with store managers. Why does Finish Line want to hire DECA members for its stores?
As I mentioned, DECA students represent 10% of our store employees – and we want more. DECA students are already trained in marketing, sales and service – and it shows. They routinely outperform our other hiring sources in every measurable category.
What advice can you share with students and young professionals on how to advance in the industry?
Retail is an incredibly dynamic industry. It also allows you to work just about anywhere you want to live. Those are VERY big benefits to consider when thinking about a career. As far as advancing, retail is very similar to other industries. You need to find the sector of the industry that inspires you to excel, work hard – and you will.
Finish this sentence, I love working in retail today because….
I am a very competitive person and I think retail is a very competitive industry. Change is a constant. It requires you to lead versus follow, to be successful.
NRF Foundation encourages you to vote for DECA in the Pepsi Refresh Project every day until April 30. The Pepsi Refresh Grant will help DECA expand on the development and delivery of their Competitive Events Program, of which a number are retail-focused.